The 2022 LPGA Fan Experience
The golf was good, the vibes were right, and oh, yeah, there was a Publix truck
By Jordan Perez
Last week, I attended an LPGA event for the first time in almost four years. (I love women’s golf, but the amateur side is more my speed, as that’s my usual beat.) I came away believing the LPGA event fan experience has undergone a significant upgrade.
The first LPGA event I ever attended was the 2019 season opener in Orlando. As at most SEC schools, things slow down in the spring at the University of Florida, so my roommate and I were always looking for a reason to get out of town in search of an adventure. At the last minute, I asked if she wanted to attend the final round of the Tournament of Champions, emphasizing the presence of celebrities to appeal to her non-golf-inclined self. She accepted, and an hour later we were on the road.
As we meandered around the grounds, I remember thinking, Are we the youngest people here? There was probably some truth to that, as retirees and mostly folks age 50 and up occupied the stands and collapsible lawn chairs. We had an enjoyable January afternoon, but we still felt out of place. We even talked ourselves out of imbibing in the booze, as the setting didn’t seem to welcome a pair of college kids.
With that prologue, I’m sure the next statement will confuse you: I am now following the LPGA more than ever. Having a job in golf necessitates that kind of thing, but my passion for women’s golf is also at an all-time high.
That’s why I was stoked to get to Naples, Fla., for the season-ending 2022 CME Group Tour Championship. This season the LPGA Tour has been rich with storylines. From Lydia Ko’s revival to Nelly Korda overcoming her health scare to Atthaya Thitikul’s banner rookie year, I’m all in. Watching the finale unfold was a must. (Seeing some players I had followed as amateurs play their way into the Tour Championship was a bonus.)
The road to Naples
You probably know Hurricane Ian was the deadliest hurricane of the past century. Tiburon Golf Club is a few miles north of where Ian made landfall in late September. Due to flooding and downed trees, the course was unplayable for days. Perhaps the biggest damage was residential, as many were displaced. The resilience of the tournament staff and superintendents was astounding. The course was in pristine condition, as if nothing had happened.
Getting there was simple. The hustle to get from the media lot to the course can be an ordeal, but the shuttles were readily available and clean. Friendly drivers made a great first impression. At the entrance, bags were checked and metal detectors were in working order. (My belt buckle set off the alarm almost every time.)
Shoutout to senior media official Megan McGuire, whose mom I ran into as I was asking tournament volunteers about the location of the media center. She escorted me with such a cheery and welcoming demeanor that I know now where Megan gets it from. Her mother became an LPGA super-fan by proxy of Megan’s job and travels from the east coast of Florida every year for the tournament.
The LPGA fan experience
After I found my seat and got settled into the media center, it was time to explore. I noticed the impressive fan village and made it a point to check it out. Walking in, the first thing that caught my Floridian eye was the signature Publix green wrapped around a truck. Yes, there was a Publix truck. If you’re a Publix shopper like me, you know what a big deal this is.
Those who stopped by the truck were offered free seasonal ice cream samples: peppermint stick, eggnog, and pumpkin pie. For health reasons, I’m dairy-free, but the eggnog was certainly worth the indulgement.
The merchandise tent was just steps away. I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of styles available. If you know me, you’re aware my absolute weakness is good golf merchandise. Remember the famous tie-dye hoodie? Well, manufacturers have seriously stepped up their game in this area.
There’s a line based on the LPGA’s third logo, used from 1991 to 2007. It adorned all kinds of clothing, from crewnecks to tees to collarless tops, my favorites to wear on the course. The contemporary and timeless blend was perfectly achieved, given I’m always in the market for vintage golf apparel. There was even a spin on the trendy Lululemon Wear Everywhere bag. Unfortunately, I can’t find those online, but here’s a photo.
I can’t neglect the primary reason I was there. With its gold and black courses, Tiburon is a vast piece of property, but it’s pretty simple to navigate. The event was played on the gold course, a picturesque 7,382-yard par-72 design with quintessential Florida elements: wide fairways, fast Bermuda greens and plenty of water. The sod-wall bunkers and a lack of traditional rough make for spectacular scenery. The front and back nines are pretty far apart, but it’s hardly a drawback. Uncharacteristic chilly temps and challenging gusts kept the golf interesting. Every player I watched fought hard for a share of the biggest purse in women’s golf. Concession stands were easy to find and affordable too.
For somewhere south of $100, you had a front-row view to the best golfers in the world play 18 holes on a championship course. An autograph alley allowed fans of all ages to grab a signature from their favorite player — and they were more than accommodating. That’s a premiere sporting experience, the kind of accessibility seldom found at major sporting events. And the galleries certainly trended younger from what I saw in my previous excursion.
In three years, the LPGA has elevated the fan experience to a level where diehards and casual fans alike can enjoy a day or more watching quality golf at a championship venue. The LPGA is not immune to the “grow the game” cliche, but it has undoubtedly risen to the occasion.